The Sinbio project, which uses a biomass boiler to convert straw, hay and woody material into renewable energy in the town of Trebišov in Slovakia, was the winner of the Businesses category in the EU Sustainable Energy Awards. These were presented in June 2017 as part of EU Sustainable Energy Week. Denisa Paseciakova, a representative of Sinbio, offers further insights into the project and how it works.
1. Where did the idea for the Sinbio project come from?
The heating group of which the Trebišovská eneregetická (the local energy company for the town of Trebišov) is a part has for many years promoted ecological heating. It operates several thermal power plants in Slovakia, but they use only woody biomass. When the company expanded its reach to Trebišov, it saw the potential of a region that always has been strongly agricultural. It was then a logical and economic choice to use the materials this region offers, and the company is keen to help the region become self-sufficient and be boosted economically. Therefore it decided to encourage local farmers to use the agricultural land that otherwise would not be used to cultivate fast growing plants and to produce more straw and hay biomass. It guarantees the purchase of this waste straw and hay biomass at relatively stable prices.
2. Can you explain the technologies used by the project?
The whole process starts in the fields, where agricultural machinery is used to harvest, pack, collect and transport the straw and hay biomass to the warehouse. Then the straw packs are moved to the daily storage. In the thermal power plant, there is a boiler, 'Vesko S', which is adapted to burn straw in packs. The mechanism itself is very simple – the loader of fuel takes the whole straw pack and puts it on a conveyor. The cutting mechanism cuts bigger straw packs into smaller ones. A wicket gate lets the packs to be moved on a sloping sliding grate to the combustion chamber. The heat released goes directly to the separate heat exchanger and ash is moved by the conveyor to the waste container. To ensure that particulate matter is not released in the atmosphere, the boiler house is equipped with modern filters capturing the pollutants. There is another boiler, 'Vesko B', in the thermal power plant for burning woody biomass, which works on a similar principle. To distribute the heat to households there is a double pipe system – one for water flowing out and one for water flowing back. It is also important to mention that in the beginning there were seven separate boiler houses located in the centre of the Trebišov with seven separate circuits. The Trebišovská energetická company united all the circuits into one circuit and built a new modern thermal power plant on the outskirts of the town.
3. What impact has the project had on people living in the area?
For people living in the area there are several benefits. First of all, they pay less for heating but, more important, the air is less polluted. The project has also created new jobs, including some for socially disadvantaged groups. Moreover, instead of importing natural gas from abroad, farmers have been given more opportunities to produce straw biomass for heat production. This ultimately results in economic growth as money stays in the region.
4. What does winning an EU Sustainable Energy Award mean to you?
It's undoubtedly a tremendous honour for us. This price is proof that even smaller countries can be an example and trendsetters in the area of energy efficiency. This prize is a confirmation that our work has a sense, a true meaning and it is also an encouragement to us that we should continue in the same way in the future.
5. What are the future plans for the project?
In the Trebišov region we would like to engage more farmers to participate in our project, especially in growing fast growing plants for the production of more straw and hay biomass. We would like to present our project as a best practice in the area of environmental sustainability to the professional public at seminars and conferences and also to the wider public by social media. Our ambition is to motivate others to create similar projects and we are willing and ready to give a helping hand through consultations during the preparatory phase or by coordination during the project realisation.